We can always see our nose. Yes, right now you’re probably trying it out to see for yourself if it’s true. Can you see it? It’s always there, but our brains learn to ignore it to focus on more pressing matters that require our attention. In fact, our senses are so powerful at communicating the world around us to our brains that we literally can’t handle all the information that our senses are constantly gathering. This is why it’s hard to talk to someone watching the game on tv or scrolling through Facebook on their smartphone. It’s not necessarily that they’re choosing to ignore you. It’s just the brain doing what it does, focusing on one thing at a time.
Our brains have learned to focus, to filter out all the extra information that our bodies are sensing all the time. But are we focusing on the right things? Many a relationship has suffered due to one person’s focus on something other than the person right next to them. It’s possible to be standing right next to someone without being truly present. The same is true with our relationship to the divine.
God is always present. But we learn to ignore it. We let our focus be drawn to everything else, one momentary distraction at a time. Many people feel “closer” to God in a worship service, but that’s not necessarily because God is any more or less present in those gatherings. It’s because we choose to focus on God in those transforming moments. And when we choose to direct our full attention to God, we can suddenly become aware of how God has been present with us all along, much like the old footprints story.
The author of Hebrews tells us we “have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest” (12:18). Yet it’s something that’s still there. God’s presence is real and powerful, waiting for us to seek it and unlock something new. But if you don’t go looking for it, you might miss it altogether.
The poet Girard Manley Hopkins wrote around the time that electricity was just beginning to be widely used. In his poem, “God’s Grandeur,” Hopkins compares God’s presence to an electric current, something that is there but can’t be seen unless it’s powerful energy arcs out occasionally with a bright flash. All that stored up energy waiting for somewhere to go.
You can be the conduit through which God’s electricity flows. But you have to wake up to the presence of God. The light won’t come on unless you flip the switch.